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Interview with Rusty Nails, Director of 'Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A. Romero'

July 29, 2006 -- Rusty Nails, Independent filmmaker and founder of New Eye Films, took the time to answer some questions regarding his work for ESplatter readers. Some may already fe familiar with Nails' first feature film, "Acne"; a satisfying blend of parody, dark humor, and gore, done largely in the style of 50's and 60's horror films, which has garnered something of a cult following. Of special interest to most, will be Rusty's upcoming documentary "Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A. Romero". An early screening of some footage at last month's Fangoria convention in Burbank was very well received by the fans in attendance. I, for one, am really looking forward to this film. Rusty discusses the making of his Romero documentary (and many of his other projects), and gives us an insight into the realities of independent filmmaking:

Esplatter: With the majority of your previous experiences being music videos and short experimental films, what were some of the new challenges faced with the production of a feature-length project in ACNE.

RN: What's interesting is that we made most of our short films and videos while ACNE was being finished. The movie took four years to make... and there were many times that I needed to step away from the project for a little while and make a short film... to clear out the cobwebs in my mind. Music videos can be great in that they often only take a few days to shoot. After the shoot, I hand them off to one of the people who edits my films. I work with a number of different editors... I prefer to have other people edit my work... I always have final say of everything... but not doing the editing frees me up to write and direct. I love making short films... some of my favorite work is contained in my short films. I made a short film about The Ramones, who are my favorite band, which is called The Ramones and I. I have another short called Grethel and Hansel which is a punk rock version of the Hansel and Gretel story... I've also worked with bands like Erase Errata, The Locust, Scream Club and a few others. It's too bad more directors don't continue to make short films once they get into feature production... you have such freedom... and they're much less expensive and time consuming. Fortunately, people like David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin do come out with new short films from time to time. As far as challenges on ACNE goes... I try to do new things on every film I make.... this is part of what makes the filmmaking process so exciting for me. Whether is a new style of editing... writing dialogue in a new way, trying to make great noticeable female characters... which few male directors do... making dynamic roles for fantastic, intelligent actresses to play... or doing tricks with film in-camera.... even though film has been around for 100 years... there are endless possibilities to be had with the medium... and I love that. With ACNE I tried to do this mixture of Horror-Sci-Fi-French New Wave-Film Noir-Black Comedy... I felt I hadn't really seen this before and I really wanted to. I wanted to make the characters fresh in a way that was new to me... I wanted to make them fun... and silly... and show them as they were learning about the world around them... the lead characters, Franny and Zooey, don't have all the answers to what's going on in their bizarre new world, nor are they ignorant. Most of the horrors these characters face are things that happen to all of us, and we're so used to them, they're not even scary to us... which in many ways is horrifying.

Esplatter: How do you generally go about raising financing for New Eye projects?

RN: I work. My films to date have been very inexpensive. ACNE cost between $16,000 and $20,000. I worked doing everything from being a bag boy at a health food market to being a receptionist to raise money for the film. Unfortunately, I don't have any rich relatives who could give me money. So I worked and saved and spent and worked and spent throughout the making of the film. Believe me, it took me a long long time to raise the money for the film. The nice thing about producing the film myself is that I didn't have worry about changing anything for anybody. Sometimes people would come up with good ideas that we'd use for the film... but otherwise, I just let my imagination run as wild as I could.... and I'm very proud of that... especially since has many bizarre and ridiculous moments in it. I did hold 6 punk rock benefit shows at different locations to raise $2,000 dollars... and I had a friend that joined the Hare Krishnas and was ready to give up his worldly possessions... and $1,000 to our film was part of his sacrifice... Krishna bless him! My friend Patrick Slee also put up $1,000 to be supportive. So we did get some funding outside of my working but not as much as I would have liked. But the movie got made and now it's in stores everywhere around the country. Which is wonderful. The band Tilt put up money for us to make a video called "Animated Corpse" which is my tribute to 80's horror films... that was a lot of fun to make and very hectic. We shot in 70 locations in 3 days... which is just rediculous. "Animated Corpse" is an extra on the ACNE dvd. For "Highway Robbery" that was just me taking a bus an hour and a half away from Chicago to film this blind-veteran-cowboy while the government tried to steal his land... I was the director, camera man and sound guy... fortunately, my friend/cameraman Jonathan ended up coming and shooting halfway through the project. But that film has probably cost around $3,500... for tapes, travel, computer parts and other things. I'm working on securing financing for my next feature TEENAGERS FROM MARS and that's going to have a much larger budget... or at least I think it will. The truth of the matter is - I could've waited a long time for people to give me money and I might never have gotten to make my films... a lot of people say you shouldn't put your own money into your films... but if I don't have anyone else's money... I'm going to work and look for money where ever I can get it.

Esplatter: What inspired you to begin DEAD ON: THE LIFE AND CINEMA OF GEORGE A ROMERO? You've put together an impressive list of interview subjects for the film. I assume that their enthusiasm about George and his films led them to want to participate?

RN: I saw Night of the Living Dead on television when I was 11 and it left an incredible impression on me. I had never seen anything like it. The film was beautifully shot, the actors were very believable, the monsters seemed plausible. The film just blew me away. I believe that George A. Romero is one of the most important American filmmakers of the last forty years. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, Martin, Knightriders, Day of the Dead... his films are in many ways about America's weaknesses, desires, darknesses and truths. He was one of the first truly independent filmmakers. George was one of the first directors to work consistently outside of Hollywood and New York as well as being a director who helped elevate, broaden and intellectualize many concepts in the horror genre over the last four decades. DEAD ON is about George's life and filmmaking process... we're including many other artists and looking at their experiences... people like Stephen King, Ed Harris, John Carpenter, Danny Boyle, John Landis, Rob Zombie, Penn from Penn & Teller, John Waters, Roger Ebert, Dario Argento, Wim Wenders and many others. As far as people participating goes... I think a lot of these people saw that we were fairly well read on George and were very passionate about the project... and when they saw that we were very serious about what we were doing... 97% of everyone we asked agreed to be in the film.

Esplatter: George Romero comes across as a very modest guy (at least when I met him, and from what others say of him). How did he react when he heard you were producing the film? Did George provide you with the great 8mm footage of him walking around the Carnegie Mellon campus during his college days?

RN: George is incredibly sweet and kind. He's also very straightforward in a very refreshing way... he lets you know where you stand with him. George is very supportive of the project. When I first mentioned my interest in making the documentary, I told George that I wanted part of the film to be about learning about the filmmaking process by seeing George's course throughout the years. George really liked that. I want the documentary to be about many different things... about whether community is important in the filmmaking process... about why George makes the choices he does. About the pluses and minuses of working on independent films and Hollywood films. George is very pleased that I'm making the film... actually, he's more appreciative, I think, that we've put so much work into the project and we've done a lot of research. We did get the 8mm footage of George at College from him... and what's even more exciting is that many many people have lent us material no one has ever seen before.... we're hoping there will be an endless amount of surprises in DEAD ON! George has worked with so many fantastic people. Everyone from Bingo O'Malley (Creepshow), to John Amplas (Martin), Lori Cardille (Day of the Dead), Judith O'Dea (Night of the Living Dead), to his crew members throughout the years such as Joe Shelby, Bomba, Nick Mastandrea, John Harrison, Richard Ricci (aka The Rev). Honestly, it's been a long cool journey through someone's history... and we've recruited many of George's friends to tell the story.

Esplatter: "Highway Robbery," your upcoming documentary feature is about "the quick taking of the Ditzler Property in Rockford, Illinois." This sounds like a fairly politically charged film. What can you tell us about the background and production of this film.

RN: I am currently finishing a documentary called Highway Robbery... which is about a 65-year-old blind veteran whose land was taken away by the federal government to potentially build a 17 million dollar highway. I got involved with the film because I used to work for this website Supersphere which had a fantastic political section... they had sent me on an assignment to cover the land grab of this poor family and I just fell in love with the story. After the one time I went to Rockford, which was all I had been required to do, I continued to go to Rockford to film the family and the story of the road which was unfolding at the time. I ended up buying a 3 chip miniDV camera and learned how to use it and wore the hats of director, videographer and soundperson at the same time... fortunately I got a great cameraman and good buddy Jonathan Buchanan to join me which gave me the chance to dismount from the camera duties and focus on the people and the issues easier. We're currently wrapping up editing on Highway Robbery and we're very proud of the film. People should expect to see this at film festivals within the next year. This film cost very little money to make so far... seeing that all we've spent money on is the camera, miniDV tapes, and storage for memory for the computer...

video cameras are a great way to record some of the messed up events that are going on in our world. The camera is a very strong tool for politcal change and information - as long as the news and the media continue to lie to us... people have a way to inform one another by keeping tabs on political scams and lies around the world and broadcasting it to people.... people should have the ability to see what other forms of information exist and get opinions and views from all sides... at the moment, we are generally only shown the manipulated conservative side of the news.

Visit the New Eye Films webpage for more info on Rusty and his work: http://www.neweyefilms.com/

-- Steve Mason

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